Round Two: Proposal for Early End to Alcohol Sales During Miami Beach Spring Break

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Round Two: Proposal for Early End to Alcohol Sales During Miami Beach Spring Break:

Original plan watered down but still needs to pass second reading

Miami Beach Commissioners will once again consider an early end to alcohol sales in parts of South Beach during Spring Break when they meet this week. Mayor Dan Gelber’s original proposal for a 2 am cutoff for 17 days during the peak college recess period in March was pushed back to 3 am and the timeframe reduced to 12 days when it was considered on first reading two weeks ago. 

The impacted area is the MXE District which is generally Ocean Drive from 5th to 16th Streets and a portion of the CD-2 Commercial District between Pennsylvania Avenue and Collins Court, from 5th to 16th Streets, which takes in Collins and Washington Avenues and Española Way.

We took a deep dive into the discussion last week. This week, we give you the latest on what Commissioners will discuss at their Wednesday meeting when the proposal is up for second and final reading.

The original proposal would have impacted Winter Party, a weeklong LGBTQ celebration which runs from March 4-10 this year, so the start date was pushed back to March 11 at the urging of Commissioner David Richardson. The end date of March 23, however, overlaps with the Ultra Music Festival which isn’t on the Beach but still brings a crowd here. Richardson has proposed an amendment to the Spring Break ordinance that would further reduce the time period to eight days, sunsetting on March 19 in time for Ultra, as long as the City Manager determines “there have been no significant public safety incidents in the affected districts, including without limitation criminal incidents, public nuisances, or other public disturbances” during the period leading up to the 19th.

Also on the agenda, a resolution that would give City Manager Jimmy Morales the discretion to take actions he deems necessary during the month of March to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Those actions include prohibition of coolers and tents on the beach, implementation of a license plate reader police detail, suspension of sidewalk café operations in the restricted area at midnight, suspension of licenses for promoters of events at alcoholic beverage establishments, and suspension of the noise exemption from 9th to 11th Streets on Ocean Drive.

The most controversial provision was that there be no amplified music on Ocean Drive between the hours of 7 pm and 10 pm. Tom Donall, owner of the Palace, an Ocean Drive staple with its popular drag shows that extend out onto the sidewalk, told Commissioners he is fully booked for shows during March. “We do our show from 7 to 11:30 so if you do twelve days of this, this is going to really detriment us and I think the others on Ocean Drive.” Commissioners delayed voting on the resolution until a solution could be found that would allow the Palace shows to go on.

The new resolution contains a provision that “any live or amplified music shall be limited to ambient level on Ocean Drive between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am.” [Don’t expect that one to go over very well either.]

Opponents of the alcohol cutoff have pointed to potential damage to the City’s brand with tourists who booked expecting one thing only to find the experience very different. They argue the problem is the crowd drinking on the beach and piling out onto Ocean Drive at the end of the day. Students are not the ones in the clubs according to the businesses. Most are underage and don’t want to spend the money, they say. What the businesses are concerned will happen is that tourists with money to spend will be driven out of the bars and clubs into residential neighborhoods that don’t have the capacity to handle the crowds. They say keeping the crowds in the Entertainment District protects the residential neighborhoods.

That concern is shared by some residents. The Collins Park Neighborhood Association sent a “strongly worded” letter to the Mayor and Commissioners saying they do not support the rollback for 12 days. Ray Breslin, who heads the Association, said the proposal “is doing nothing other than getting people upset, pushing them to neighborhoods that are not capable of handling the crowd and, without shutting down all of Miami Beach at 3 am, they’re setting us up for a huge class action lawsuit that could cost the City millions of dollars. And, since the City is self-insured that means the taxpayers foot the bill,” he said.

“They waited way too long to address the situation,” and now the City is telling guests who come to Miami Beach for those 12 days, “Oh sorry, at 3 o’clock go find something else to do,” Breslin said. 

“The real problem is during the day on the beach,” with local visitors who are not staying in the hotels or spending time in the clubs, Breslin added. “They’re sitting on the wall, listening to the music, and bringing their own booze. We’re not making any money off of them. For the City to do what they’ve done isn’t the right thing. They haven’t solved anything.”

Breslin called the Collins Park area a “mini club district” which includes the Wall at the W South Beach, Treehouse, and Studio 23 which operate until 5 am for events, usually on weekends. In addition, Maxine’s Bistro at the Catalina Hotel operates 24 hours, Sweet Liberty is open Monday through Saturday until 5, and Mokai is open until 4. “It’s not fair they can be open until 5 when the Entertainment District, which is set aside to be an entertainment district, cannot,” he said.

The 15-person Collins Park Neighborhood Association Board is a mixture of residents and business owners who “unanimously said it’s ridiculous to do that,” Breslin said.

Another neighborhood that could see an influx of visitors looking for a 5 am experience is West Avenue where Bodega and Bikini Hostel operate until 5. 

Gayle Durham, President of the West Avenue Neighborhood Association, wrote in an email that she has spoken with residents and read social media posts from people expressing “fear that crowds will leave Ocean Drive at [3AM] and keep the party going by moving into 5AM bars in our residential neighborhood.” She said the neighborhood has “ongoing problems” with Bodega and Bikini Hostel which she refers to as “bad actors.” The Association has not taken an official position.

The South of Fifth Neighborhood Association did not respond to requests for comment but in that area ScapeGoat and Ted’s Hideaway Lounge operate until 5, Story and Big Pink are open until 5 am Thursday through Saturday, while Urbanica The Meridian Hotel’s Mini-Bar stays open until 5 on Fridays and Saturdays.

In North Beach, On the Rocks, Sand Bar, Norman’s Tavern, and Bikini Bar are open until 5 while Burgers & Shakes operates until 4 am.

The Ocean Drive Association is also taking issue with the reason for the early cutoff. Attorney Alex Tachmes, Shutts & Bowen, sent a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners saying, “[T]here is one fact that became clear” during the discussion of the ordinance at first reading. “The City presented no evidence (other than anecdotal) to support its claim that criminal activity is higher after 3:00 a.m. than it is during other times of the day or night.”

Tachmes and the Ocean Drive Association (ODA) conducted their own research on crime rates in the MXE (Entertainment) District. The data for the last year, he wrote, “makes it clear that the rate of crime after 2:00 a.m. in MXE is NOT higher than at earlier hours. In fact, police data indicates that criminal activity after 2:00 a.m. is actually LOWER than criminal activity during the day or earlier in the night.”

Tachmes provided the following summaries:

“The lack of evidence of increased criminal activity after 3:00 a.m. leads us to two (2) conclusions,” Tachmes wrote. “First, if there is no evidence to support the claim of increased criminal activity after 3:00 a.m., then the selection of 3:00 a.m. as the cutoff time for alcohol sales is completely arbitrary. Although cities have some latitude in adopting legislation, all legislation adopted by a city must have a rational basis or else it is illegal. The lack of evidence supporting the claim of increased criminal activity after 3:00 a.m. proves that this ordinance has no rational basis and is, therefore, arbitrary and illegal.”

“The second conclusion we can deduce from the lack of evidence of increased criminal activity after 3:00 a.m. is that the adoption of this ordinance will not lead to a material decrease in crime and, thus, is bad policy,” Tachmes continued. “Remember that the underlying premise of this ordinance is that crime is allegedly substantially higher after 3:00 a.m. and, therefore, cutting off alcohol sales after 3:00 a.m. will lead to a major decrease in crime. However, because there is no evidence to support the claim of increased crime after 3:00 a.m., it follows logically that suspending alcohol sales after 3:00 a.m. would not cause a major decrease in crime. Therefore, this ordinance would be ineffective and bad policy.”

The Palace’s Donall was not available to discuss the proposed change to the resolution that would allow his shows to go on during the evening, however, he did tell us earlier in the week that “This problem really goes back to the City, the beach area where the parties are on the beach to make sure that they contain it and everything goes good.”

“The City’s had a whole year to plan this out and they’re doing all this at the last minute,” he said. “We’re doing this two weeks prior. It’s ludicrous. It’s going to damage our brand… It’s just not thought out at all and there’s no statistics that the music makes a difference.”

Music and entertainment is “what made South Beach,” he said. “The problem is the beach. Contain that. Get more police officers and don’t put it on the businesses.”

“We have a great crowd here and we’re busy,” he said. “Any time you have a group of people come in – it doesn’t matter where you are in the world – there’s a few people who are going to cause a problem. It’s going to happen. You’ve got to be prepared for it, but don’t put it on the businesses.”

The Spring Break items for the Commission meeting can all be found here.


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